A bill to ease immigration for highly educated students in science and technology passed the House Friday on a 245-139 vote, with 218 Republicans joined by 27 Democrats in backing the bill.
Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador is a co-sponsor of the STEM Jobs Act of 2012, H.R. 6429. It would amend immigration law to eliminate the foreign residency requirement for foreign students with a master's or higher degree in a field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM degree) from a U.S. institution of higher education and a job offer from a U.S. employer.
Many Democrats oppose the bill because it ends a "diversity visa" program that provides 55,000 annual visas for other applicants. The Democratically controlled Senate is not likely to take up the measure during the lame-duck session, but H.R. 6429 could serve as part of the negotiations on reform when a new Congress reconvenes in January.
Shortly after the vote, a left-leaning reform group, America's Voice Education Fund, called the effort "faux reform" and said, "Republicans need to go big or lose big."
Wrote blogger Pili Tobar: "These Republicans seem to hope that they can do something that looks like immigration reform and address their demographic and political problems."
Labrador, who was born in Puerto Rico, has long advocated the GOP softening a hard-line stance on immigration. He reiterated that view after GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney received just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote.
A 5-minute segment with Labrador aired on National Public Radio Friday morning. Labrador told NPR that he supports a GOP version of the "DREAM Act," without a pathway to citizenship.
Friday's vote was scheduled by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who worked with Labrador and others on the measure. Cantor was in Boise in October raising money for Labrador.
In a news release after this morning's vote, Labrador said, "There is wide bipartisan support for STEM Visa reform. Leaders in both parties and businesses across America have recognized the need to retain the best and brightest minds in the world. They already come here to be educated—but when they graduate our system is so inefficient they return home or move to Canada where they compete against us. With the STEM Jobs Act we are replacing a broken, inefficient visa program with one that works, rewards innovation, and means jobs for our economy.”
In September, the same bill failed to receive the two-thirds vote required under suspension of rules. Friday's vote required a simply majority.
Video is here.
Mr. LABRADOR of Idaho:
“I rise in opposition to the motion. This motion to recommit is one more example of the Democrats not being serious on immigration reform.
“We don't need to talk about the merits [of this motion to recommit] or whether it's good or bad policy. For my friends on the other side it' s been good politics. Before I came to Congress I was an immigration attorney for 15 years. Those were some of the finest 15 years of my life. I've seen how broken the system is and I've seen how few people there are on the other side who actually want to fix problems instead of just playing political football.
“Sadly, the captain of the political football team is sitting in the White House. Actually, today, he is sitting somewhere else doing more politicking. Actions speak louder than words. I actually agree with the minority on this. The president of the United States made a promise to fix a broken immigration system during his first term. A promise which he could have kept, by the way, without making a single compromise.
“He had a majority of both houses of Congress, a filibuster-proof majority, for two years, and he did absolutely nothing. The other side could have had 100% of what they wanted when they controlled the House, the Senate was filibuster proof, and they had the president. When they wanted health care legislation, and they wanted policy they passed it without any help from the Republican party. But somehow they come here today and they claim that they could not pass immigration legislation during those first two years and that they actually want to do something about immigration reform.
“Why didn’t they solve it then? Because the political football would have gone away, the game would have been over, and they would not have been able to play this political football game every two years.
“I want reform. I want no more games. So now we sit here in a familiar position. Our side proposing solutions, their side asking for concessions. One concession, three more arise.
“This year, just this year, in this chamber, the President of the United States said he wanted a STEM bill. He said that it didn't have to be comprehensive. This was his exact quote:
"But if the election year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let's at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start a new business, defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.’
“My friends this is that bill. It is exactly what the president asked for. And what has he done now? He's pulled the football away again. He now says that in fact, it does need to be comprehensive: ‘The administration is deeply committed to building a 21st century immigration system that meets the nation's economic and security needs but it has to be comprehensive.’
“He went from saying he didn't need a comprehensive bill to saying he needs a comprehensive bill. He says now that he in fact needs comprehensive reform, when he said a year ago that he didn't.
“How do I feel? I feel like Charlie Brown, my friends. This is a good bill. The president continues to move the ball, the Democrats continue to move the ball, every time Republicans want to do something positive on immigration, on the economy, they keep moving the ball away from us.
“Let's stop being Charlie Brown, my friends, this is a good bill; it would strengthen our economy, it will create jobs and it is exactly what the president asked for a year ago. Let's call his bluff and send him a bill to create jobs and opportunities here in America. Thank you.”
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